Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Russia is now a criminal matter, senators say after 'sobering' briefing

The President wasn't happy being asked if he'd put pressure on the then FBI Director to close an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Amid claims about his campaign's relations with Russian Federation and whether he tried to stop an Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into the issue, Mr Trump claimed to be the most hounded president in history.

Rosenstein's admission came during a closed-door briefing for all 100 senators where he addressed the latest questions arising from a stream of controversy surrounding Comey's dismissal and the investigation into Russian interference into last year's election. "Mr. Mueller will tell us what we can get and what we can't".

Asked point-blank if he'd done anything that might merit prosecution or even impeachment, Trump said no - and then added of the lingering allegations and questions: "I think it's totally ridiculous".

US President Donald Trump adjusts his translation ear piece during a joint press conference with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House on May 18, 2017 in Washington, DC.

"I'm fine with whatever people want to do", he added. "But we have to go back to running this country really, really well".

"I would be very discouraged if somehow this new special prosecutor would preclude Jim Comey from testifying in public before our committee", he said.

Flynn is accused of misleading Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador during the Trump transition.

But Trump, after issuing a measured statement when the news first broke yesterday, allowed his resentment to burst forth overnight in angry morning tweets.

For his part, Trump has gone as far to say the special counsel is the "single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history".

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Republicans on Capitol Hill hoped the same, reasoning that the appointment of a special counsel could free them to work on a major tax overhaul - and other matters - without constant distractions.

Mr Trump is leaving for his first foreign trip, to the Middle East and beyond, and aides had hoped the disarray at home would have been calmed if not resolved by take-off time. Despite the president's furious reaction, some fellow Republicans welcomed Mueller's appointment and expressed hopes it would restore some composure to a capital plunged in chaos. Committee leaders have already been having talks with senior Justice Department officials to "deconflict" their efforts - but lawmakers worry that if Mueller widens the scope of his investigation, they may have few witnesses at their disposal.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller after a succession of jarring developments that brought to a boil questions over Russia's alleged meddling in the election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

"Mueller's in charge, completely in charge of this investigation", said Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of IL.

"This was a very good first step".

In this September 4, 2013, file photo, then-incoming FBI Director James Comey talks with outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller before Comey was officially sworn in at the Justice Department in Washington. "I now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead".

Senators said that Rosenstein steered clear of specifics while making clear that Mueller has wide latitude to pursue the investigation wherever it leads, potentially including criminal charges.

He criticized Comey's testimony to Congress - "a poor, poor performance" - and said that helped seal his fate.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr indicated at one point that Flynn was resisting the committee's document subpoenas, but later clarified that he hadn't actually heard from Flynn's lawyer to that effect and he would welcome "their willingness to cooperate". It was not clear what caused the mix-up.

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